Talk with your Kids about Mental Health

mental health

by Jason Haug, Program and Project Management Officer, Ottawa Public Health
Julie Turcotte, Public Health Nurse, Ottawa Public Health

There’s a lot of pressure facing youth. They’re going through puberty while trying to find out who they are and where they fit in. As a parent, you most likely have questions about their mental health.

When to be concerned

A mental health problem is a change in how the brain works. It affects emotions, thinking and actions.

You might be concerned after hearing your adolescent say things like:

“If I don’t hit something, I think I’m going to explode.”

“I wish I could just stop feeling (sad, angry, worried, irritable).”

“If people knew what I was thinking, they’d think something’s wrong with me.”

“I hate myself.”

“No one cares about me.”

“There’s no hope/future for me.”

You should seek help if your child:

– Makes strong emotional statements that persist or that are worrying you

– Shows behaviour that is not typical of what you’re used to seeing

– Shows aggressive behavior

– Has a false belief that someone is trying to harm him or her

– Sees or hears things that others do not

– Has a flat mood or affect (not showing happiness or sadness, but rather neutral emotions or no real emotion at all)

– Expresses thoughts of self-harm or death

– Feels depressed

– Feels a loss of control or powerless in life

Get help for your kid right away by going to the emergency department of your nearest hospital if he or she:

– Expresses immediate thoughts of self-harm

– Expresses thoughts of hurting others

– Says things like, “I want to die” or “I just want to end it all.”


mental health


How to start the conversation

As a parent or caregiver, it’s important that you continue talking openly with your youth. Look for those one-on-one moments that present themselves:

When you’re making dinner

While your child is doing homework

While you’re both watching TV

When you’re in the car

When you’re engaging in activities together

When you’re talking with your adolescent


    It’s important to remember to:

    Use straightforward, clear, simple language. If you use big words, talk too much or try to fix things, your teen is going to tune you out.

    Stay calm. Getting angry and emotional in a situation is not going to help.

    Try not to be judgmental. Instead of judging, try to imagine yourself in the same situation.

    Listen. Listening is the most important part of communicating with your teen. Try to share the feelings and try to be understanding. Using statements like “I see” or “Tell me more about” shows active listening and is validating.

    Validation before direction: remember to hear him or her out. Your youth needs to know it’s okay to come to you to be heard. Always listen and affirm the story. “It must be hard to (restate the issue)” before providing direction: “How can we make this better?”

    Be aware of your body language. Crossed arms or a stern look on your face might show your kid that you’re not interested in what’s being said. Sometimes body language speaks louder than words.

    Keep the warmth; it’s important to continue to show (through your actions) love and warmth toward your child.

    More questions?

    Visit to find additional information and resources.

    Speak with a Public Health Nurse. Call the Ottawa Public Health Info Line (OPHIL) at 613-PARENTS [613-727-3687] ] (TTY: 613-580-9656) or email Ottawa Public Health at

    Connect with a Public Health Nurse and other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page (

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